Homeless center becoming reality

Published: Wednesday, November 13, 2013 at 2:26 p.m.
Last Modified: Wednesday, November 13, 2013 at 2:26 p.m.

Eight years in the making and barring any unforeseen circumstances, a homeless assistance center is expected to become a reality when — on Tuesday — the city of Gainesville takes possession of the closed Gainesville Correctional Institution.

Bob Woods, communication manager for the city of Gainesville, said in 2005, the 10-Year Plan to End Homelesness was adopted and it has taken eight years to agree on a location.

"It's been a long road to get to this point," said Woods, in a telephone interview on Tuesday. "We've reached consensus and now we need community conversations to create a future vision."

Woods said the site will need a name and the city will be holding meetings to solicit input from the public for a name that will represent the community's vision for the site. He said some in the community are referring to it as a homeless assistance center and others in the community are calling it a community empowerment center.

Fred Murry, assistant city manager, said on Nov. 19, the city is expected to take possession of the closed property at 2845 NE 39th Ave. Murry provided a PowerPoint presentation/overview of homeless services during the November meeting of the Black on Black Crime Task Force held last Wednesday at the Kirby Smith Center.

"This is a long-term project," Murry said. "but we can't do it without your vision. We want to take it from prison to pride."

Woods said the city is paying $1.4 million for the property, which includes 98 acres for conservation and 30.5 acres with 15 buildings to be used for a homeless center that will also provide services to the community as well. The purchase also includes an access road from NE 39th Avenue.

Woods said organizations and individuals have been invited to submit proposals to administer and implement services for homeless persons at the proposed center. The deadline for submitting proposals is Nov. 19 and the bid will be awarded on Dec. 5.

Woods said the city also is reviewing applications for an interim project coordinator, who will coordinate daily activities until a vendor can start providing services at the center. Woods said there are three buildings that can be ready for interim services, such as intake/case management and serving two meals per day starting in December or January.

Woods said the Request for Proposals includes suggestions of services to be offered at the center.

"We're saying these are the services we would like to see, but we're not telling the vendors what to do," Woods said. "Services will grow overtime in a phased process."

"The property is suitable for a campus-style facility, expected to be self-contained," Woods said. "We don't expect anything but a minimum impact to the neighborhood."

"Our goal is to make this a national showcase," said Woods, adding that the vision is to have a site that provides more than a site for a homeless center, but also provides long-term services to the community at large, such as education, job skills and job search, and other opportunities.

Theresa Lowe, executive director of the Alachua County Coalition for the Homeless and Hungry Inc., said the coalition will be submitting a proposal for the operation of the homeless assistance center. The coalition is a non-profit agency that provides services to homeless and low-income residents in Alachua County.

Lowe said there are three buildings that only need cleaning and minor repairs, and those buildings could be used right away to provide homeless residents with intake and case management, two ready-meals per day, a place where they could get their mail, and storage for their belongings so they don't have to carry them on their backs all day. On the grounds, there is a restroom and a covered pavilion that can be used right away, too.

"In the meantime, the other buildings can be renovated as funding becomes available," said Lowe, adding that there are four buildings the city will be repairing to allow for more services to be provided. She thinks those buildings could be used for a library/computer center, a kitchen/cafeteria, a laundry room, a dormitory, and a restroom/shower facility.

Lowe also doesn't think the center will have a negative impact on the neighborhood. She said the center will be self-contained. To access the center, Lowe said the homeless population at the Bo Diddley Downtown Plaza would probably walk along Waldo Road and NE 39th Avenue or take the RTS bus.

"Hopefully, people serving food (for the homeless) at the plaza will agree to serve the meals at the center," Lowe said.

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